Late diagnosis of HIV remains a challenge across the WHO European Region. Every second newly diagnosed person has already reached an advanced stage of the infection. In the European Union/European Economic Area, the latest data from 2017 show that almost 90% of AIDS diagnoses happened within just 90 days of the HIV diagnosis. This indicates that the majority of these AIDS cases could have been avoided with early diagnosis.
Yet being tested for HIV has never been easier. Across Europe, peer counsellors, who are not necessarily medical professionals but have received special training, give advice, support and are able to deliver results in a matter of minutes at community-based testing facilities.
In the event of a positive test result, confirmation at a health-care facility will be needed. If confirmed, doctors follow up and are then able to provide treatment using antiretroviral drugs. These drugs prevent the HIV infection from developing into AIDS and make it possible for people to live long, healthy lives with HIV. In the majority of cases, treatment leads to an undetectable level of the virus in the blood, meaning there is no need to fear transmitting the virus to sexual partners.
“Getting tested was the last thing on my mind”
For 28-year-old Dimitris in Athens, Greece, getting tested for HIV was the last thing on his mind until a friend mentioned the Athens Checkpoint, an HIV prevention centre in the Greek capital that provides counselling and rapid testing. The final motivation to get tested came when a friend was diagnosed HIV positive. So, 8 months ago, Dimitris decided to give it a try. The positive diagnosis came as a complete shock.
“I considered myself an informed person. I almost always used condoms,” he explains, adding, “But there is always the occasional time when the situation does not help you to act as you would have wanted. I felt extremely guilty. My doctor told me that I most likely got infected 2 to 3 years ago. What if I hadn’t got tested when I did? Who else did I expose to HIV all those years?”
On top of the guilt, Dimitris felt foolish for having turned down a friend’s suggestion to use pre-exposure prophylaxis, known as PrEP. These antiviral medications prevent infection with HIV and are highly effective when taken as prescribed. Read more via WHO